Being within walking distance of the Texas state capitol building has its perks. From taking iconic photos in front of the 311-foot historic building to lounging around on the green lawns of the Texas Capitol Grounds, we can all agree that this landmark building is a centerpiece of Austin and the great state of Texas. It is the influential work that goes on in this building that shapes our lives as Texans whether we know it or not.
So, the question now is, how many of current UT Austin students are aware of what goes on in this building?
For example, I have struggled throughout my four years at UT to stay in the loop of what our elected officials are up – even though the capitol is just a few short blocks away. Because of this, I asked a few of our own UT Nutrition Faculty who teach and engage with nutrition and food policy to provide some advice for students on how to get involved.
Here are 4 Tips to Getting Involved with Public Policy.
The Time is NOW
Dr. Natalie Poulos, nutrition faculty member and instructor of Community Nutrition where students learn about nutrition policy making, shares that the best time to get involved is now, right after a legislative session. During an active legislative session (like the one that ended this May), our elected officials are bombarded with emails, letters, phone calls, scheduled events, and unannounced office visits, in addition to having to carry out the crucial responsibilities that come with being holding an elected office. Now that session has ended, the fate of bills are decided, elected officials have time to breath and being preparing for the next session in 2021. This is when we should reach out, when the iron is hot and new decisions are at the forefront of our minds.
Get to Know Your Elected Officials
Getting to know who represents you at the local, state, and federal level is very important because these people are the ones that are making decisions for you on your behalf. If you, like me, were trying to look for your officials and kept coming to a dead end, then look no further. Start your search with THIS helpful tool provided by the Texas Legislative Council who your elected official is.
Marissa Epstein, nutrition faculty member who began her policy career working on the Let’s Move! Campaign, suggests to start local when wanting to get involved. For example, Marissa suggests that “reaching out to your Mayor’s office is a great place to start because the Mayor has a major influence on what your town or city will look like.” Local officials determine our outdoor settings and zoning laws, therefore, they can decide whether we will be a moving city ready for active lifestyles or not.
Another area to start getting involved in that focuses specifically on nutrition and health is the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties. Marissa Epstein played a crucial part in developing this initiative throughout her time in D.C. which ensure that local elected officials adopt a long-term, sustainable approach to addressing childhood obesity. By promoting health for the public overall, this initiative is a starting place to start advocating for change in our cities.
Raise Your Hand
Our local officials want to hear your voice. As constituents, we have a very important role to play in the legislative process. We are charged with speaking up whether that be by sending letters with your stance on a topic or going into your official’s office at the capitol to chat, taking that first step to communicate your view is essential. All you have to do is be courageous enough to raise your hand and begin the conversation.
With the fall semester just a few weeks away, take this time to plan out your next steps for getting involved in public policy. Take advantage of your proximity to the state capitol not only for its aesthetics, but for the multitude of possibilities it offers to having your voice heard. Because we all know that what starts here at UT, can change the world.
Who Represents Me- https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Action Center- https://www.eatrightpro.org/advocacy/take-action/action-center
Texas Public Policy Foundation- https://www.texaspolicy.com/
Written by: Alie Cantu, a recent Nutritional Sciences graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. Alie recently complete the Coordinated Program in Dietetics (August 2019) and is looking forward to a career in nutrition and dietetics.